A top expert on isolated tribes in the Amazon rainforest was killed after an arrow struck him in the chest while he was approaching one such indigenous group in a remote region of north-western Brazil. According to witnesses, he died while on a mission to monitor and protect the uncontacted tribe, BBC reported.
Rieli Franciscato, a 56-year-old senior official in Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, was killed on Wednesday by members of an indigenous group in a rainforest located in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, a report by NPR stated. Franciscato was originally sent to the area to shield the vulnerable group from threats posed by outsiders.
The incident occurred on the edge of the Uru Eu Wau Wau reservation, which has repeatedly been raided and plundered by loggers and miners over the years. “He cried out, pulled the arrow from his chest, ran 50 meters and collapsed, lifeless,” Paulo Ricardo Bressa, a policeman who had accompanied him for the mission, said in an audio message shared online by Brazilian media.
According to Bressa, Franciscato had climbed a hill to see whether members of the tribe were passing through the rainforest. “We heard the noise of an arrow that hit his chest,” Ressa recalled, according to the NPR report.
The Kanindé Ethno-Environmental Defense Association, an NGO Franciscato co-founded in 1992, said that it was very difficult for the vulnerable tribe to differentiate between friends and enemies from the outside world, Reuters reported. Many believe that the tribe members may have mistaken Franciscato for an invader.
Sydney Possuelo, a former colleague of Franciscato, told Reuters, “Rieli was a calm, methodical, soft-spoken man who knew the dangers very well, but he was alone and so he went to ask the police to accompany him.” Possuelo claimed that the tribe may have been alarmed by the presence of a police official.
During his career spanning several decades, Franciscato has worked closely with the Brazilian Funai agency to set up a number of reservations to protect the countries’ indigenous groups. However, protecting the forest and the many tribes it houses has been even more difficult in recent years, experts said.
According to Possuelo, the Brazilian government led by Jair Bolsonaro has done little to help environmental groups working in the Amazon. Bolsonaro has repeatedly pushed to integrate indigenous groups into the broader Brazilian society, and has even described that as living “like cavemen”.
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